Practical Steps to Better Mental Health

This past year and a half has been challenging, right? Ponder this fact:

The number of people looking for help with anxiety and depression has skyrocketed. From January to September 2020, 315,220 people took the anxiety screen, a 93 percent increase over the 2019 total number of anxiety screens. 534,784 people took the depression screen, a 62 percent increase over the 2019 total number of depression screens.” (https://mhanational.org/issues/state-mental-health-america)

And then there’s this from the same source: More people are reporting frequent thoughts of suicide and self-harm than have ever been recorded in the MHA Screening program since its launch in 2014. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread rapidly in March 2020, over 178,000 people have reported frequent suicidal ideation. 37 percent of people reported having thoughts of suicide more than half or nearly every day in September 2020.”

Now I am no counselor nor will I pretend to be. If you need to seek an educated counselor, please do so. That can be a great investment in you if you are suffering from anxiety and depression. In my past, I have met with a counselor who did so much good for me. It is worth it.

In my experience, here are a few things that have helped me battle anxiety and depression. Again, I’m no counselor. I’m simply sharing my story in case it will help you.

Stay Connected with Positive People

I have found in my own life and from observations of others that when a person becomes stressed and depression starts to set in, withdrawal happens. Pulling away from people that support and love you – this is dangerous. I can lose perspective so quickly when I withdraw from others. I only end up playing “bad tapes” that can drive me deeper and deeper into depression.

Years ago, I had breakfast with a friend who was going through an ugly divorce. “I just don’t know what to do right now!” he told me that morning. “Doing what?” I asked. “I just want this all to go away and I feel like I’m supposed to be doing something right now.” I replied, “You are. You’re meeting with me. Don’t forget the friends you have. We are here to support you, to listen to you, to help in anyway we can. Stay connected.”

He did. And he was able to navigate those stormy relationship waters.

Pay Close Attention to What You are Saying to Yourself

Dr. Shad Helmstetter wrote one of my favorite books – What to Say When You Talk to Yourself. Self-talk – and we all do it – is very important when you and I are fighting anxiety and depression. I would highly recommend this book and practice what Dr. Shad teaches. Our tendency is to talk negativity into our lives. We replay so many “programs” we’ve grown up with. But there is hope! You can re-program your brain. You can.

Jon Acuff in his book Soundtracks approaches the same topic. He also talks about former programs, soundtracks, that we habitually play. To overcome negative thinking, Jon tells to create positive soundtracks that we say to ourselves often.

If you know you overthink and talk negatively to yourself, get these books. Fight for a healthier you.

Walk it Off

I’m not suggesting that exercise, even a 20 minute walk, will eradicate anxiety in your life instantly, but doing something as simple as taking a walk has huge benefits for our physical and mental health. Here’s what one article listed as benefits:

  1. Protect Your Heart – in just a 20 minute walk everyday, you may reduce the risk of heart issues by 30%.
  2. Slim Down – for many of us, weight gain is a point of anxiety. Consistent exercise can improve your health in so many ways. You already know this. Try walking for 20 minutes a day. Then slowly increase it. Clear your head. Breathe. Walk.
  3. Keep Your Memory Sharp – in one study, people who walked regularly tested better on memory tests and the levels of the protein in the brain responsible for learning increased.
  4. Improve Your Mood – a study by Cal State University found that the more steps you take during the day, the better your mood. Endorphins are released and you will feel happier.
  5. Sleep Better – who doesn’t want this?! Harvard conducted a study that revealed that those who moderately walk every other day feel asleep 50% faster.

To read this article, follow this link.

Remember Your Good Times

Your life and my life have good memories we can recall. Do it. Remember something funny from you past and laugh about it again. Remember something that really touched you and feel those feelings.

Years ago, one of my teams did something for me that still moves me today. They (unknown to me) surveyed everyone on the teams that I led asking them what they think about when they think of me. They then presented me with the following. This is how they saw me:

I look at this often. I remember. I become grateful that I had the privilege of leading this team. They made me laugh, think, and they helped make me better.

Don’t let our current world-wide issues drag you down. You can do very practical things to improve your mental health. As I wrote earlier, practicing these ideas is an investment in YOU. You are worth it. You truly are.

Trust & Vulnerability

So a manager you lead approaches you to say they need time off to deal with significant family issues. You can hear the tension in their voice. What do you do?

  1. Listen to them. Hear their emotion. Accept that emotion.
  2. Ask appropriate questions. “Are you worried about work?” “What can I do to help you and your family during this time?” Connect with your team member.
  3. Feel. Feel what they are feeling. If you are not an emotional person, that’s ok. Work hard to empathize with them. They need to know you understand (even in part) what they are going through.
  4. Think. Think of actionable things YOU can do to make them feel less guilty about work, take the load off of their shoulders and place the work load on you and their team members. It’s not a forever thing, but you can communicate and demonstrate “we are here for you” during this difficult time.
  5. Act. Set up a time to meet prior to their leave of absence to plan the course of action.
  6. Follow-up/Follow-through. Keep the communication going for the entire team. Touch base with this team member.

This is a crucial time to communicate how much you value your team member. Difficult times come – that’s life. But with some intention, care and concern, as well as humanity, you help your team member navigate through their current stormy waters.

If you have built trust within your team, this is a critical time to put that to the test. Allow vulnerability. Allow tears. Encourage communication and promise it. Be human.

VULNERABILITY QUOTES [PAGE - 22] | A-Z Quotes

Be a Noticer

One of the podcasts I enjoy listening to on my morning walks is “The Professional Noticer” by Andy Andrews. Andy’s podcast is “built around Common Sense, Wisdom, and Laughter.” Andy calls himself a Professional Noticer – someone who pays attention to the great individuals and ideas all around him and then shares that with the rest of us.

This morning on my walk, I was thinking about this. How am I a noticer in life? How can I be a noticer who can bring out the best in others and even myself? What will I “catch” when I begin to notice more. How will my eyes be open to things I haven’t noticed before? How can I notice more of the positive people and things all around me? I certainly don’t need to focus on the negative. And neither do you.

Would you like to be able to “tune” your awareness and mind on the positive life around you? You can do it. In fact, I bet you already have done it before.

When you’ve shopped for and then bought a new car, didn’t you start noticing that car model all around you? Prior to your search and then sale, you probably didn’t pay much attention to that as you drove back and forth to work or to the store. But now that you’re in your new car, you see them everywhere.

There is something at work. It’s called the Baader-Meinof effect. This happens “when your awareness of something increases. This leads you to believe it’s actually happening more, even if that’s not the case.”

Years ago, I challenged a group of managers at work to start noticing yellow cars on the road. For weeks after this challenge, they reported “suddenly” seeing yellow cars. But did those yellow cars really, suddenly appear? No! But their awareness of seeing yellow cars increased and they started noticing them. I then challenged them to notice what our customers were saying in conversations so we could help them save money, make money, save time, and protect their assets better. And my managers did!

So how can we apply the Baader-Meinof effect in our day-to-day lives? How can we become, as Andy Andrews calls it, professional noticers? Try some of these ideas on:

The Team You Lead

Are you focused more on assigning tasks to your team vs noticing how they approach their work, how their family life affects their work life, how their health either helps them or hurts them etc.? Have you noticed subtle comments in a coaching session that gives you a peek into how they feel about themselves, their work, their impact?

Take time in your next coaching session (even it is virtual) to notice something differently than you have in the past. If you are virtual right now, tune up your listening skills. Don’t be afraid to ask, “tell me more about that” if you hear something that you notice might help you help them move forward in their development. Notice personal changes such as a death in the family, moving into a new home, changes in relationships, kids graduating, etc. You can celebrate and understand your team far better when you pay attention to what may seem like the “little” things.

Notice their results and celebrate their wins. Ask them if they noticed how they accomplished their goals. Coach them to see those opportunities and actions that got them there.

Community Leaders

As you network in your community (again, even if it is virtually), notice what is happening in the lives of your community leaders. I find the best tool to use is LinkedIn. If a connection (or even a 2nd or 3rd level connection) has accomplished a milestone, engage with them to share a congratulatory comment. This tells them you noticed!

Read their content. Share their content if you feel it is appropriate. Promote their business. Noticers do more than merely notice. They take action. Action that adds value to the other person.

Strangers

Years ago when my kids were in the middle of their elementary years, we were eating at a local restaurant. I noticed an elderly couple sitting a few tables away from us. I called over their waitress and asked that she allow me to pay for their meal and to keep it anonymous. My daughter, I think she was a 4th grader, seemed appalled by this. “Dad, do you know them?!” I said I did not. “You can’t do that!”

“I certainly can. What I’m doing is a random act of kindness. You guys know what that is, right?” They both said they had talked about that in school. I then asked how do they think the couple will feel when they know that someone paid for their meal that day. My son said, “I’d feel great.” “Now you know why I’m doing this,” I said.

It is amazing what we can do for others when we notice others around us. The sales person at Best Buy who just got yelled at by an unreasonable customer. The Downs Syndrome bagger at Krogers who does his job with an ever-present smile on his face. The barista who always remembers your drink even though you don’t remember her name. The young man who helps an elderly woman who just dropped something and she is now embarrassed.

You’ve witnessed scenes like this, I’m sure. Noticers notice. But noticers can take it one step further. Say something. Walk up to that sales person and assure them that not everyone will be cranky today and that they handled themselves with dignity. Tell that grocery bagger you appreciate them. Look your barista in the eyes and say “thank you” and use their name (I bet they are wearing a name tag). Walk up to that young man and let them you know you noticed his kindness.

For me, I’ve taken in a step further. My wife started a fun little game for us that I’ve expanded on. She created an engaging way to tell me she loves me. You can read about that here (https://smilyspreadlove.com/home/). I have created “coins” that I carry with me. If I notice someone doing a random act of kindness or someone needing a lift in their day, I give them one of the coins. I’ve paid for someone’s McDonald’s in the drive-thru and asked the cashier to give the coin to the driver behind me. I want to encourage them to either spread some love to someone else or know in that moment that they matter.

People love noticers. It validates them. It makes their hearts visible to the world. It makes them – for that moment – believe they matter – and they do!

As we wrap up this crazy year, determine to be a noticer in 2021 and beyond. Tune your mind to become of aware of the great people and things around you. Build someone up. Add value to someone. Spread love.

More of. Less of.

On this early morning (4:51 am) of September 11, I woke up with this on my mind.

Tony Jeary first introduced me to an idea, a concept that changes lives. This idea helps people become better. Goals become focused. Behaviors take on new meaning. This is not only practical – it is doable.

More of. Less of.

Think about a goal you have:

  • Monthly sales goal
  • Weight loss
  • Self-development
  • Relationships

Now that you’ve got that one goal in mind, ask yourself, “What can I do more of to move me closer to my goal?” Then ask, “What do I need to do less of that is hindering me from achieving my goal?”  Now go do it!

It’s pretty simple, isn’t it? We already know what we need to do more of to hit sales goals (more calls, more follow-ups/follow-throughs). We already know what we need more of to become healthier (drink more water, exercise, eat more veggies). And you can list what you need to do less of to develop yourself into becoming the better version of where you are today (i.e. less TV?). And you have a lot of experience already to know what you need more of and less of to make your relationships thrive.

Let’s broaden this thought out. My country…our world…needs more of something, and it all needs less of something.

  • Prosperity?
  • Equity?
  • Justice?
  • Violence?
  • Chaos?

What I woke up to was this: more love. This is not new. This is not radical. This is and has been the answer forever. And we all know how to do more love.

  • Smile – let your spirit brighten someone else’s day.
  • Laugh – it’s healing.
  • Care – do something for your elderly neighbor. Buy someone’s meal at a restaurant (without them knowing it was you). Volunteer.

What do you think would happen in our world if everyone did one random act of kindness today? Just one. More love. That’s what would happen.

So, why don’t we? Perhaps we are so wrapped up in ourselves that we become blind to others. Maybe we are so inwardly focused on our own fears, worries, anxieties that we cannot see how others struggle. Perhaps we need less focus on ourselves and more attention on those around us.

Today I challenge myself – and you – to do more of something that moves you towards love in your part of the world.

  • Smile more.
  • Tell someone you appreciate them. Literally, tell them and be specific.
  • Be helpful.
  • Compliment more.
  • Find the good in someone else.
  • Say “thank you” often.
  • Email/Call someone you have not been in contact with. Tell them you have been thinking about them.
  • Do a random act of kindness.

In my country, today is a somber day. We remember a day filled with hate, destruction, and murder. But we also remember more about our heroes who gave their lives so others lived. We remember a city that rebuilt itself as our nation rebuilt its hope. We remember buildings filled with people who loved others, helped others, and inspired others in the face of unspeakable horror. We remember.

And today, we do more. We love…more. And one by one, person by person, this love changes our nation and our world.

 

Tuesday Tip – Who else would benefit from knowing this?

Many of you read articles, blog posts, books or listen to a TED talk and you are inspired. You learn something new. You actually make changes in your professional/personal life as a result. Does it all end there…with you?

My tip for today is take this one step further. Why else would benefit from knowing or getting exposed to this information?

  • Your team?
  • Your colleagues?
  • Another leader in your community?
  • Your family?
  • Your mentor or mentee?

Of course learning and developing as a leader is critically important. Take it one more step and share what you have learned with someone else. Email them a link to that blog post. Send them a podcast link. Take a photo of a powerful paragraph and email that to them. Share what you’ve learned over coffee or lunch.

Some folks will be receptive to this. Others will not. You’ll learn who is open to this. Focus on adding value. This sharing – it is about them, not about you. You could help someone launch something incredible in their life!

Tuesday Tip: Personalize Your Note-Taking

Are you a note-taker? If not, I encourage you to develop the habit of taking notes. “You mean in meetings?” That’s one place. But there’s more times to take notes:

  • Meetings
  • Reading a book
  • Preparation for a meeting
  • Sermon
  • Video content you’re listening to
  • Podcast you’re listening to
  • When an idea hits you and you don’t want to forget it
  • Lectures
  • Reading a blog
  • Reading a magazine

You get the idea. Where do you record your notes? That’s up to you. Carry a small notebook to capture ideas. Use a journal. Use your smart phone/tablet/laptop. Use talk-to-text to capture in-the-moment ideas. Just capture your thoughts.

But here’s the tip that makes the most difference for me. I personalize my note-taking.

When I read a book, I’m a highlighter. When I read, I have a highlighter and a pen with me. I highlight a passage I want to remember. I often write a note in the margin that helps me connect dots (from this thought to a future action).

And once I complete reading the book, I often go back and write in my journal what I learned from that book. So, how do I personalize the notes? I put them in first person even if the author did not write that thought in that way. Here’s an example:

James Clear is the author of Atomic Habits (I highly recommend reading this book and then following him in social media). In the chapter, “How Your Habits Shape Your Identity (and Vice Versa)”, he writes about “new identities” in light of moving away from the person (habits and all) to the person we want to be.

He asks this question: Who is the type of person that could get the outcome you want? In my journal, this would be written: Who is the type of person that could get the outcome I want? Other examples:

I become my habits.

The most effective way to change my habits is to focus not on what I want to achieve, but on who I wish to become.

When I make a specific plan for when and where I will perform a new habit, I am more likely to follow through.

I do this because I want to internalize what I’m learning. Making it personal moves new information and ideas to my heart and to my mind and making the likelihood of me following through much more successful. I create a conversation, of sorts, between me and the author as though she/he is talking to me. I pay attention to the content more. I put more of what I am learning into action.

Next time you take notes – especially when you need to take action on those notes – personalize them. It’s one way you can coach yourself to become better.